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Hope despite the death of the BBL

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is dead. The last day of the 16th Congress sealed the fate of the once celebrated document. Produced by representatives of the government, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, foreign stakeholders, local peace advocates and grassroots communities, the 17-year product of constant dialogue and continuous consultation was killed by inaction and indifference.

As early as last December, some proponents of the BBL had lost hope and were sounding the death knell for the proposed law. All the trust and momentum that made us believe that peace and reconciliation could indeed be possible in Mindanao were lost in an unfortunate incident that claimed the lives of 64 Filipinos (44 Special Action Force troopers, 17 members of the MILF, and three civilians). What was deemed a fair structure that could give the original inhabitants of Mindanao their due died in an ill-fated mission that the majority of the Moro people had nothing to do with.

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The rippling effect of the Mamasapano encounter in January 2015 cannot be denied. It resulted in a maelstrom of mistrust, so strong it reinvigorated the age-old bias sown by colonizers against the Moro people. Suddenly, an entire nation became apprehensive of the BBL. Such apprehension fueled what was displayed during the last session days of the 16th Congress—the disinterest, apathy and antagonism of lawmakers which ultimately led to the body’s failure to come to terms with what the proposed law intends to provide the Moro people.

What is curious about the BBL (which may also be the reason for the strong resentment against it) is that people see it according to its seeming religious undertone: the Moro people being followers of a religion that has been constantly met with prejudice, when in fact it is not the issue to begin with. What the Moro people are fighting for is their “indigeneity” —being among the first inhabitants of Mindanao, men and women who fought valiantly and thwarted the many attempts of colonizers to subjugate them. They are still with us today because they resisted the tools of homogenization employed by foreign invaders.

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While the Moro people were able to fend off colonization, the introduction of many state policies and government migration programs in Mindanao during the early 20th century resulted in the original inhabitants becoming a minority in their domain—marginalized, brought to the peripheries in the land they once owned.

Is it fair to deny the Moro people what is due them because of something not of their own making? By denying them what they rightly deserve, the patterns laid down by history were strengthened. As a result, they may fight back. Oppression and marginalization are the root cause of all insurgencies. And the oppressed and marginalized have just been given another reason not to trust the majority.

All our Moro brethren want to do is to preserve their identity. All they are after is for their children to realize the richness of who they are by instituting a framework that will safeguard their heritage in their own land. They are not after secession. They want the BBL because it will lead to a just and reparative structure that will empower them as a distinct cultural group, so that they can actively take part in nation-building. They have just been denied that.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop of Cotabato, affirms that the insurgency in Mindanao is “rooted in the injustices done against the Moro people, against their Moro identity, their valid cry for political sovereignty, and their demands for integral development.” The goal of the BBL is to address exactly that.

Talking with some of my Moro friends, I can feel their frustration over what has happened. They feel betrayed by the majority and are upset that they were again portrayed in a bad light in Mamasapano. I ask our Moro brethren to not give up, to still be willing to talk peace.

At this time, all we can hope for is that the trust and confidence built during the 17 long years of dialogue and deliberation will be sustained. While the prepared framework didn’t see the light of day due in part to prejudice and discrimination, the networks and friendship established between and among those who took part in the lengthy peace process—the Christians, Moros, and indigenous peoples of Mindanao —are something to celebrate. More and more people are now seeing the beauty of dialogue, and, despite this tragic reversal, are beginning to understand the plight of the Moro people and other minorities in our country in general. They are fighting a legitimate and just battle.

These words are from a Christian settler who has seen the reality in Mindanao. May we learn to open our hearts to our Moro brethren. May we finally let go of our prejudices and truly give peace a chance. The road to peace is full of obstacles; may the death of the BBL be considered only as such. Despite its death, we still long for peace. Despite its demise, may we still work hard for an inclusive framework that will address the needs of the diverse composition of Filipinos in Mindanao.

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Let us continue to hope.

Jesse Angelo L. Altez ([email protected]) teaches philosophy at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He is engaged in the work of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, the research arm formed under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The views expressed here are his own.

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TAGS: 16th Congress, Bangsamoro Basic Law, BBL, Mamasapano
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